When I was 12, I used to dream about the day I would turn 16 and suddenly become pretty and popular with the boys, like my best friend was already. My friend and I would fantasize about finding our one true love, getting married and having kids. We were in love with the pristine, romanticized version of love our favorite Disney movies offered us…and had no idea what we really wanted.
I never planned my wedding. There were no scrapbooks with cut-out wedding dresses and cakes from Brides magazine. Time went on, and I reached 16. No popularity, no guys noticed me. Some of my friends were in relationships. Some of them never were single for long. My 18th birthday arrived, and still I had not had my first date.
The whole marriage thing stopped seeming possible.
I listened to my friends complain about how their boyfriends treated them. When they started getting married, I listened when they complained about how their husbands treated them. I remained (and still remain) very, very single. While a few of my friends appear to have nearly perfect marriages based on love, respect and commitment, others now face divorce or wished that they had never gotten married, at least not so young.
You’re really stupid when you’re young. It’s a fact and nothing to be ashamed about.
I didn’t go on my first-ever date until I was 21. He was gorgeous: tall, muscular, dark hair and blue eyes, like a living Clark Kent/Superman daydream. It was a major ego boost. After spending most of my life as the “ugly, nerdy girl,” I must have grown into my features, figured out how to do my hair and makeup, and with contacts I could pass for one of the “pretty girls.”
Unfortunately, I was so in awe with him that I barely spoke and the date was a failure. No second date.
He married a beautiful girl he met at college, and they have four children now.
Now I am over 25 and still unmarried, and it’s exactly where I want to be. Sure, I have dated a few more guys since that first one. I know what I would want in a relationship if I were to meet someone I wanted to date exclusively, but my goal in life is not “to be married.” I don’t need to be dating someone to validate my worth. The good news is that I am not alone in my singleness. Nor am I alone in choosing to (possibly) never get married, even if I do meet someone I want to spend the rest of my life with.
According to a 2014 Pew Research survey, more and more Americans are staying unmarried for much longer. This is more true of men, but women are also choosing not to tie the knot. The survey revealed a few of the reasons for this trend. One of the reasons people are deciding not to get married is that they have other priorities, like their careers. In general, the younger generation believes that society can do just as well if people have other priorities than getting married and having children.
Marriage is both a legal and religious contract for many people. An article from the Huffington Post provides an interesting look at the history of marriage: Before women were legally able to vote and work outside of the home, society required that we get married for financial stability and social respectability. An unmarried woman was seen as a “spinster,” an unwanted woman, because a woman’s identity was inexplicably tied to the men in her life. She “belonged” to her father. If she married, she became her husband’s “problem.”
Thank goodness for the women’s rights movement!
Long history of marriage and social issues aside, marriage tends to represent commitment in our society. If someone wants to marry you, then it means that they are committed to you and only you, right? Well…not exactly.
Webster’s defines “commitment” as “something pledged” or “the state or instance of being obligated or emotionally impelled.” When I Googled the word, the definition on the front page said “an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action.” Now that’s romantic. A legally binding marriage contract ties not just your identity to someone else, but also your credit reports and finances. It’s really messy if the marriage ends in divorce.
According to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the divorce rate is 3.6 per 1,000 population. Out of the 2,118,000 marriages on record today, that means 7,624 of them of them will end in divorce. Statistics don’t reveal how or why those marriages turn into divorce cases. Maybe one of the spouses cheated on the other. Maybe they fell out of love with one another, or maybe they just grew apart after so many years together.
And contrary to some arguments, marriage is also not the cure to all of society’s ills. Being married won’t end the rape epidemic or stop abuse or protect any of us from pain, loneliness or heartache. These things happen within marriage as much as they do outside of it, and often become hidden within the statistics while the victims are silenced.
Solving the corruption within our society requires empathy and compassion, as well as legislation that recognizes the humanity of others and has caught up with technology. While a marriage license might bring some brides and grooms peace of mind, in the grand scheme of things, that piece of paper is no better than a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.
Will I ever marry? Maybe. I won’t rule it out. But I realize that one day I could love someone and want to be with him forever without needing to walk down an aisle at a church. Love, respect and commitment cannot be conferred upon legal documents. They can only be negotiated between the people involved in the relationship.
Maybe my 12-year-old self would be disappointed with my perpetual single state, but my 25-year-old self sure isn’t.
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